Sunday: November 27, 2005
In honor of the 2012th anniversary of the death of Horace, here is the opening of Act I, Scene XIV of Rossini’s delightful Il Turco in Italia, which I saw and heard for the first time today (on DVD). The speaker is the poet Prosdocimo, who constantly interferes in the action in a proto-pomo way:
Ho quasi del mio dramma
Ma un atto è poco a un dramma,
E Orazio dice che minore
Di cinque esser non può.
Ma in due parti dividerlo io dovrò,
Che gli uditori miei
Sarian ben presto, caro Orazio, stufi
Se fosser di cinque atti i drammi bufi.
I’ve almost finished
the plot of my play;
but one act is too little for a stage piece,
and Horace says that it cannot consist
of less than five.
But I’ll have to divide it into two parts,
otherwise, dear Horace,
my listeners would soon be irked
if comedies were written in five acts.
Text and translation are quoted from the liner notes to the 1998 La Scala recording conducted by Ricardo Chailly and sung by Cecilia Bartoli, Alessandro Corbelli, Michele Pertusi, and Ramón Vargas (London 289 458 924-2). Yes, I bought the CD and the DVD before listening to either: I’ve seen and heard enough Rossini to know I was unlikely to be disappointed.
I still have trouble seeing Horace as an authority on dramaturgy. In this case, Rossini seems to have the better of the argument. I watched the DVD of Salieri’s five-act Tarare a few weeks ago. Despite an amusing plot and a libretto by Beaumarchais, I found it rather a bore. On the other hand, Salieri’s two-act Falstaff, which I saw at Wolftrap a year or two ago, was quite diverting.
I suppose the most suitable memorial reading for Horace would be Carmina 3.30.
Monday: November 21, 2005
No debemos utilizar como documento histórico las obras maestras, sino las mediocres.
Lo que diferencia a las épocas es su manera de fracasar.
For historical evidence, we should not use the masterpieces but the mediocre works.
What distinguishes epochs is their style of failure.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.372)
Sunday: November 20, 2005
Sólo debemos leer para descubrir lo que debemos releer eternamente.
We ought to read only to discover what we ought to reread forever.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.214)
Lector auténtico es el que lee por placer los libros que los demás sólo estudian.
The true reader is the one who reads for pleasure the books that the rest only study.
If I’m not mistaken, the “gloriously accoutred warrior”* Chloreus who inadvertently lures Camilla to her death in Book XI is the first character in the Aeneid who is wearing any pants: of his many colorful garments, the last mentioned is barbara tegmina crurum (11.777). He is probably the last, too, though I have another book to go in my current (re)reading of the Aeneid. A peek in the OCT index tells me that Chloreus is killed off in 12.363, where he shares a single line with two nonentities, Sybaris and Thersilochus, along with Dares, presumably the loser of the boxing-match in Book V. At least he and Dares get single-word death-notices, if not full-scale obituaries: in the Iliad, Nireus, the handsomest of all the Greeks at Troy after Achilles, is never mentioned after his five lines in the Catalogue of Ships (2.671-75).
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*The description is from R. D. Williams, ad loc.
Wednesday: November 16, 2005
La prosa de César es la voz misma del patriciado: dura, sencilla, lúcida.
La aristocracia no es un montón de oropeles, sino una voz tajante.
Caesar’s prose is the very voice of the patriciate: hard, simple, transparent.
The aristocracy is not a pile of gold tinsel, but a distinct voice.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2.481)
Tuesday: November 15, 2005
I’ve added a dozen or so titles (all in Classics) to my list of Books for Sale (link in the left margin). Several seem to be rarities — at least no one else is offering copies on ABE. Please take them off my hands so I can buy more.
Hoy para ser puritano basta tener gusto.
To be a puritan today, it is enough to have taste.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.379)
Thursday: November 10, 2005
I would like to thank my colleagues in the Department of X at the University of Y for helping me complete this book. But they didn’t, so I can’t.
Please note: when I call these “words I’d like to see”, I don’t mean to imply that they haven’t been written already by some disgruntled academic somewhere, just that I haven’t seen them.
Tuesday: November 8, 2005
Laudator Temporis Acti joins Rogue Classicism in wondering “whether there is any truth to the claim that the ancient Romans treated brain disorders or headaches with electric eels”. LTA also asks whether the electric ray or electric catfish (pictured below) might be more likely, since electric eels are found only in the Western Hemisphere, while RC is very doubtful that any ancient source can be found.
In fact, there is one. In his Compositiones, Scribonius Largus describes the use of the torpedo to treat headaches:
Capitis dolorem quamvis veterem et intolerabilem protinus tollit et in perpetuum remediat torpedo nigra viva inposita eo loco, qui in dolore est, donec desinat dolor et obstupescat ea pars. Quod cum primum senserit, removeatur remedium, ne sensus auferatur eius partis. Plures autem parandae sunt eius generis torpedines, quia nonnumquam vix ad duas tresve respondet curatio, id est torpor, quod signum est remediationis.
A rough translation:
To immediately remove and permanently cure a headache, however long-lasting and intolerable, a live black torpedo is put on the place which is in pain, until the pain ceases and the part grows numb. When it first has felt it [= numbness?], let the cure be removed, so that that part’s feeling may not be destroyed. Several torpedos of this kind should be prepared, since sometimes the treatment, i.e. the numbness which is the sign of healing, hardly responds to two or three.
The text is quoted from G. Helmreich’s 1887 Teubner edition of Scribonius, via David Camden’s Forum Romanum / Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum site. This is chapter 11. Chapter 162, also mentioned in the OLD s.v. torpedo, is not on-line, though indexed. A headache that can be localized to one particular part of the head must be a migraine. Then again, I wonder if severe depression would count as a dolor of the head.
Whether Scribonius’ torpedo is an electric ray or an electric catfish is unclear. Of the latter, D’Arcy Thompson writes (Glossary of Greek Fishes, Oxford, 1947, 172):
The medical value of its shock is recognized by native tribes in Africa, and was known to the Arabian physicians in early times. As the marine Torpedo would be awkward to manage and difficult to keep alive, one may imagine that Pliny was referring, in part at least, to the Egyptian fish.
So far as I can see, Thompson does not refer to Scribonius, and does not quote any passage of Pliny clearly referring to shock treatments with live fish, though he does allege that the liver was an antaphrodisiac, among other improbabilities. Perhaps something went wrong with his notes, and he meant to write “Scribonius” for “Pliny” in the passage quoted.
The catfish picture is borrowed from the Forth Worth Zoo site, copied here to avoid bandwidth theft and link rot. The very human fat pink lips are a disturbingly creepy touch, worthy of a horror movie. To add to the horror, Thompson reports that they grow up to three feet long.
Tuesday: November 1, 2005
From Chapter I of Anthony Trollope’s Dr. Wortle’s School, I learn that British schools provided their pupils (aged 11-17) with beer every day, and with wine and even champagne when they were ill. In Chapter III, a boy who falls in the river is given sherry negus, a mixture of sherry and hot water with sugar, lemon juice, and nutmeg. Mmmmm. The definition is from the annotator of the Penguin edition. (I almost wrote “translation” for edition, which shows how little English literature I read. Or perhaps having notes in the back makes it look like one.) Not a bad novel, though I would have liked to read more about what went on in the classroom. The one bit that is given (Chapter VIII) is interesting:
‘Clifford, junior,’ he said, ‘I shall never make you understand what Cæsar says here or elsewhere if you do not give your entire mind to Cæsar.’
‘I do give my entire mind to Cæsar,’ said Clifford, junior.
‘Very well; now go on and try again. But remember that Caesar wants all your mind.’
I find the ae ligatures (æ) in ‘Cæsar’ mildly annoying: though unobjectionable in ‘hæmatology’ and ‘ætiology’, they seem out of place in a proper name.
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